Having named the problem, I immediately tried to solve it. Residencies, I reasoned, offer the gift of time — so I researched a whole bunch of them. A surprising number will say things like: "No accommodations for spouses, partners, children or pets are available."
I knew I wasn't ready to leave my baby, so I looked for programs that allowed writers to bring their children along. I stumbled upon the very valuable Sustainable Arts Foundation
, which lists residencies that cater to artists with families. There are not many.
Allow me a brief tangent here. Last week, I taught a screenwriting class in which I asked my high school students to write a scene with no dialogue. A character wants something. There are obstacles. Nobody speaks. (I don't take credit for this exercise, I stole it from a teacher who stole it from her
teacher, who probably stole it too.)
Four days after teaching the class — I'm not taking artistic license; that's really how it happened — I was sitting on the sofa with my son on my lap. He fell asleep. My son's an irregular napper. Finally, I thought, he was sleeping while I was home, instead of outside in the stroller. I would have time to look through the list of residencies I might apply to. Those wonderful places that accept artists with children.
I stretched out my hand to grab my computer. I couldn't reach it. There it was, on the sofa next to me, about an inch away from my fingers. I cried. I cried big, silent crocodile tears. I cried like my son cries when he's hungry, and tired, and gassy all at once… But unlike my son, I cried silently, so I wouldn't wake him. And then, suddenly, I realized I was the perfect example of a character in my writing exercise. I had a concrete goal (my laptop). There were obstacles (the distance between me and it, the sleeping baby). There were stakes. There was no dialogue. It would have been the perfect scene to describe to my students four days earlier.
The second I realized this, I started laughing. If you've never gone from crying to laughing in a millisecond, let me tell you: it's not pretty. It begins with a gulp — not quite a hiccup, not quite a giggle — that makes its way down your esophagus and ends up in your belly, where it grows and growls. Still trying my best to stay silent, my entire body began shaking. But the more I tried to hold the sound in, the more I shook, until the inevitable happened: my baby's eyelids opened and his wide, curious blue eyes looked up at me. His mother: silently shaking, smiling dementedly, cheeks still wet.
The moment was so ridiculous, and his expression so priceless, that I immediately looked around for someone to share it with. I wanted so desperately to tell someone what had just happened. Because come on.
You can't make this shit up.
There was nobody to tell. And just like that, I was crying again. And that's when it hit me: